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ALEXANDER, VON  HXJMBOLDT.                   37
study by Humboldt, and has led to a new explanation
of this periodically-recurring rain of shooting stars.
Humboldt and his companions found another
greeting from their native land. A martin alighted
on a sail, so exhausted, that it could be caught with
the hand ; it was the last, and, for the season, unusual
messenger from the land, whom longing had urged
across the sea.
New scenes of brilliant natural phenomena increased
in the vicinity of the islands now rising on the horizon.,
when the sea was calm and the sky clear. Humboldt
and his friend often spent a part of the night on deck ;
there they watched the volcanic points of the Canary
island Lancerote, illuminated by the moonlight, with
the beautiful sign of the scorpion twinkling above
thern, as the moon was gradually obscured by the
midnight clouds rising from behind the volcano.
Here they saw on the indistinct fading shore., fires
moving to and fro, which fishermen, preparing for
their work, probably carried about on the coast, and
Humboldt was reminded of the traditional moving
lights which the old Spaniards, the companions of
Columbus, had perceived on the island of Guanahani
the night which preceded the discovery of America.
And this time the twinkling flame was a good omen
for Hiiruboldt, the scientific Columbus of modern
The travellers sailed past* the small islands of the
Canary group, whose appearance/with their shores,
their blunt conical rocks and volcanic elevations, pleased
them much, and whose sea famished them interesting
marine plants ; a blunder of the captain, who mis-
took a basaltic rock for a fortress, and sent an officer
to it, gave them the opportunity of landing on the
small island La Graciosa. It was the first non-
European soil which Humboldt trod on, and he has
expressed his feelings on the occasion in these words :
" Nothing can express the feeling of a naturalist when,;
for the first time, he stands on a soil which is not
European, His atteation falls on so many objects,